Rossburgh Testing Grounds south of Durban.
Rossburgh Testing Grounds south of Durban.

Licence to steal at testing ground

By Tanya Waterworth, Duncan Guy Time of article published Aug 7, 2021

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AFTER waiting eight hours to renew her driving licence, a Durban resident was shocked to find her car had been stolen from inside Rossburgh Testing Ground, with reports saying a criminal syndicate was operating within the grounds.

The AA’s Layton Beard has also warned that the difficulty “millions of people” faced when trying to renew car and drivings licences was forcing many to break the law.

The Durban woman, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said she arrived at the testing grounds last Friday at about 6.30am. She said that for renewals in the past, she had always gone to Verulam Testing Station. She was nervous to go to Verulam because of the current unrest and recent rioting in that area, she went to Rossburgh Testing Ground for the first time.

“I initially parked in the side road leading to the gate of the testing grounds, but felt uncomfortable parking there. The security guard told me there was a parking area inside.

“So I drove inside. There were a few cars clustered together and parked in bays near the front, but the rest of the yard was quite empty.

“The traffic police were there and saw me getting out of my car. I was parked with about three or four cars.

“When I came out at around 3pm, it was so empty and my car was gone. There were some traffic officers around and the security guard at the gate. There were also some guys standing next to tow trucks further up in the parking area.

“I started shouting that my car was gone, but they (tow truck drivers) just shrugged.

“Someone else who had been in the queue with me had come out and took me over to the traffic officers,” said the woman.

She said the two traffic officers called another superior officer to help.

“He told me that five cars had gone in the last few weeks.

“I was so shocked. I was there queueing for about eight hours and trying to keep the law by getting my licence renewed, only to have my car stolen,” she said, adding she was dreading having to go back to collect her licence.

This week, a social media post from KZN Traffic was being shared on WhatsApp groups warning motorists. It read: “Rossburgh Testing Grounds: If you visit the station, please beware that there is a syndicate operating and stealing vehicles from the parking lot… SAPS have been notified and there is a change in operation… when you enter at the TOP gate, please exit at the bottom gate… security will check your vehicle on exit… Only driving school vehicles to use top gate… Thanks”.

On a visit to Rossburgh Testing Ground this week, the IOS team found that there were roadworks, with many bollards, on the road leading to the testing ground. The bottom gate was locked and there was a very long queue to the bottom gate entrance, which came out of the grounds and continued down the pavement.

On the grass banks opposite the bottom entrance to the testing grounds, it appeared that liquor was being sold, with a business owner saying liquor sales outside the grounds had been operating even during the lockdown alcohol ban.

In spite of the roadwork bollards, cars were parked along the road wherever there was space, adding to general traffic congestion. The security guard was questioning people in those vehicles wanting to go through the top gate.

Inside the grounds, private cars were parked outside the main entrance, while on the opposite side was the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) office, where a number of RTI vehicles were parked.

Musgrave Crime Watch’s Dees Ahmed confirmed he was in contact with the motorist whose car was stolen in the testing grounds.

“We suspect there is a syndicate operating there. They (Rossburgh Testing Centre) need to jack up security and make the whole place more user-friendly. The cars parked outside are also at risk and even if one car is stolen, something needs to be done. What if someone gets hijacked next?” said Ahmed.

Yesterday Thuba Vilane, the spokesperson for MEC for Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Peggy Nkonyeni, confirmed that three cases of car theft had been reported to Bellair SAPS.

Vilane said: “Three vehicles were stolen in a period of three months, one per month.

“Currently, our personnel are conducting undercover operations and there is one exit point for security to conduct inspections before a vehicle can exit.”

He said the grace period for renewal of driving licences, which were impacted by Covid lockdowns, had been extended to the end of August, which had resulted in exceptionally long queues.

“Applicants are coming in huge numbers.

“Employees are working on a rotational basis and the Driver’s Licence Testing Centre (DLTC) cannot accommodate all employees at the same time. Management monitors movement of the queues hourly and informs applicants accordingly.”

He added that the Department of Transport was procuring a telephone call centre system, where applicants would have to make an appointment at the five provincial DLTCs.

“It is envisaged that the implementation of the appointment system will remedy the current situation where, at times, applicants resort to having to camp or sleep overnight outside the DLTCs to be first in the queue the next day,” said Vilane.

The AA’s Beard said yesterday that “there’s a huge problem” when it comes to the public trying to renew driver’s licences or vehicle licences, with the final extension being the end of August.

“In Gauteng, you have to make an online booking to go to a centre, but there are severe problems as people either can’t access the booking system, or there are no slots (appointments) left to book, or the slot given is at a centre far away from where they live.

“This is not a Covid problem because it started before then, but has been exacerbated by Covid.

“Driver’s licences have to be renewed by the end of August and this all speaks to an issue of trust. You have to stand in a long queue during Covid and now you don’t know if your car will be stolen while you are in the queue.

“The minister of transport has acknowledged there is a problem and there are plans in place to resolve the system, but it can’t come soon enough.

“Millions of people are trying to renew their drivers’ licences, but because they are struggling to do that and are being forced into a situation where they just can’t do it, they will drive without a licence. They will do what they have to do to be mobile.

“The whole system needs to be ripped out and replaced. It needs to move online where you don’t have to go into a centre at all,” said Beard.

KZN SAPS media spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed one case of car theft at Rossburgh Testing Ground. She said it was being investigated.

The Independent on Saturday

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